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Immigrant Smuggling Is on Rise, Agents Say

Despite more security, the Border Patrol sees no signs of slowing demand. Trafficking arrests are up 36% over last year.

May 27, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — Border Patrol agents say immigrant smuggling in Southern California is on the rise despite U.S. efforts to tighten the country's borders in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The more effective we become at controlling the border, the more people have to turn to smugglers to enter the country illegally," said Border Patrol spokesman Ben Bauman, whose office monitors the 66 miles of border in San Diego and parts of Riverside, Orange and Imperial counties.

Agents have arrested 341 suspected smugglers since October, a 36% increase from the same period during the previous year, Bauman said.

The immigration business is profitable for smugglers and less risky than drug smuggling, he said. If caught, the smugglers -- who often charge $1,500 or more per person -- face lower penalties than those bringing narcotics into the country, Bauman said.

And there are no signs of slowing demand. From October to mid-May, San Diego-area Border Patrol agents stopped 64,293 undocumented immigrants, up 9.5% from the comparable period a year earlier.

Increased security only makes people take greater chances to reach the United States, said Carlos Velez-Ibanez, a UC Riverside professor of anthropology.

"You are going to have desperate people coming across the border because they are hungry and their families are not eating," he said. "They put their lives on the line because of the militarization of the border."

The risks of immigrant smuggling gained national attention earlier this month when 19 people died in a botched smuggling attempt in Texas. Days later, 18 suspected illegal immigrants were found alive in a tractor-trailer at a truck stop not far from where the earlier victims were found.

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